A sensible pool and recreation center would be a good addition to Kirkland. However Prop 1 center is
The City should spend efficiently and minimize tax increases.
Prop 1 is a 43% increase in the Parks Department budget, from about $25M/year to $35M/yr. This is too big of an increase.
The City of Sammamish opened a very nice aquatics/rec center in 2016 costing $33M to build without raising any taxes. All their operation costs are from membership fees so people who do not use the center do not pay for it. This would be about $55M in today’s construction costs, half of the proposed Houghton center cost.
The Y regional management this year have said they are very interested in working with Kirkland.
The Prop 1 Houghton Center is expensive to build and to operate. Usage fees will only cover 74% of costs, the rest is subsidized by taxpayers.
Aquatics centers are run more cost effectively by partners such as the Y or Gold's Gym. They have larger pools of resources to draw from, more buying power, more expertise.
Sammamish Aquatics Center is operated at no ongoing cost to the City totally through membership fees paid to the YMCA. Kirkland could provide affordable access for people with low incomes, seniors, and veterans by offering vouchers for these groups. The City's plan to run the aquatics center by expanding the Park’s department staff is not cost-effective. Most surrounding cities use partners to run their aquatics centers.
If Kirkland built a rec center like the one in Sammamish, the cost would be roughly half saving $3M/year in debt service.
If all operation costs were paid by user fees there would be no need for the $2M/year operations subsidy.
All benefits of Prop 1; an aquatics center, restrooms, trails, security, sports courts, etc. could be achieved for $5M/year instead of the proposed $10M/year. The $280 per median home tax would be $140 per median home. Stopping Prop 1 now would cause a one year delay, but this much cost benefit is worth the wait.
Per the 2021 Community Survey we, by a wide margin, support a bond measure not a tax increase to pay for an aquatic facility. Prop 1 is not a bond, it is a permanent property tax increase.
We also support increased user fees over increased property tax. The Prop 1 aquatics center is not fully funded by user fees.
The city’s wording that Prop 1 provides a “public” facility and provides “affordable access” leaves the impression there will be little or no cost to use. The Fact Sheet on Prop 1 has a lot of data but does not mention user fees. They have almost hidden the need for fees from the public (see “hard to find” below). But user fees must be charged to help cover operating costs. The estimated $1,560 annual membership is too much for many moderate income families. The City knows this and tries not to mention it. The most equitable funding would be only those who use the center pay all costs of operating it.
This is a long term decision, the location for an aquatics center should be chosen correctly. The Houghton site is in south Kirkland and far from Finn Hill or Juanita neighborhoods. Either the north end of Juanita Beach park or near the intersection of 100th Ave NE and NE 132nd St would be more accessible to all in Kirkland. Land in this area should be less expensive than in Houghton. The City will need to buy the site proposed in Prop 1 from the State DOT for $9,000,000. This amount should easily buy an appropriate site in central Kirkland.
Popular items were included in Prop 1 to try to achieve passage. The new park restrooms and the Juanita Green Loop trail are among top priorities per the 2021 Parks Survey.
But the proposed center is large and expensive because it also includes low priority items. Community Centers and Services are among lowest priority of the Park's programs.
The inclusion of pickleball courts in Prop 1 is curious. The dollar amount could easily be spent within current Park’s funding. But since pickleball enthusiasts are so dedicated, listing this to get “the pickleball vote” is a calculated addition.
After aquatics the next biggest ongoing expenses are teen programs (a very low priority in surveys) and Implementation Positions needed to “… plan for and operate the increased investments…” (This is a large increase in administrative staff.) - See June 27 Letter Page 6
If Bonds are used to pay for construction, their fixed payment becomes more affordable over time. If a tax increase is used, this tax rate goes up each year with the 1% rate increase and it does not end when the center is paid off.
The City has stated they need the permanent tax to cover other costs that will be higher in the future. If they do, this should be openly stated in a future ballot measure and not tagged on to the Aquatics Center ballot measure. Taxpayers of the future have the right to vote on their tax rates.
The City language says Prop 1 is to “expand aquatics, recreation, and parks facilities, operations, and programs.” They know many voters don't study ballot measures before deciding and this list from the City gives the impression it is covers many things.
In reality 80% of the funding is to build and operate the large aquatics and meeting center. It would be more transparent to offer a bond measure for just the aquatics/meeting center and an other ballot initiative so we could vote separately for the other items.
The City also says the Prop 1 center was the recommendation of the Parks Funding Exploratory Committee (the people). We on the Con Committee were also on PFEC, we were never shown a YMCA run option and we were not allowed to bring it up.
This spend plan is a 30 year commitment to the aquatics and community center, and about 3 years of spending on the other items. Other upgrades need to be made to parks in the coming years. The funding for these will have to be on top of this 43% tax increase.
- Increasingly warm summers require changes such as adding water misting areas and adding more shade to playgrounds and picnic areas.
- In the future there could be changes to recreation preferences calling for changes to Parks facilities.
The City chose to use 30 year bonds since this lowers the annual payments and tax hike needed, thereby increasing the chances of voter approval. A majority of PFEC members recommended 20 year bonds to pay off the Center debt more quickly. (See June 27 Letter Table 2) Longer term debt is the least fiscally responsible since taxpayers will still be paying off the debt after the Center begins to wear out needing new investment. Committing money from the General Fund to pay bond debt puts the City at risk in case there is an economic downturn in the future and General Fund receipts are lowered. In such an event, since we are committed to the $6M debt payment it may not leave enough for other city functions such as Fire, Police, Utilities, Traffic, etc. (See June 20 Meeting minute 1:12)
The City Explanatory statement says "Construction would be funded separately by the City." This does not mean Prop 1 funds are not needed to construct the center, it is because it is not legal for a Levy Lift (a regular tax increase) to directly pay for it.
Washington State Law says ballot measures resulting in long term debt (more than 9 years) be via bond measures which must be approved by 60% of the voters. The City plans to use Prop 1 to get 30 year debt for the aquatics center with only 50% voter approval by having General Fund make the aquatics center debt payment and funds from Prop 1 pay back the General Fund. This is referred to as the funding “Balancing Act”. (See June 6 Meeting minute 56)
(See June 27 letter Page 2, "debt service paid through the General Fund")
While this apparently is legal it violates the spirit of the law to have a higher approval level for long-term debt. Taxpayers 25 years from now will still be paying off this debt, many of them would not have had a voice in approving it.
The original funding suggestion shown to the PFEC Committee was for two Initiatives, a Bond measure for building the Center and separate Levy Lift (tax increase) for operating it. This is the most transparent and proper approach. However, this was changed to funding everything through the permanent tax increase.
The City information on Prop 1 does not mention usage fees but it does say user fees will recoup 74% to 80% of costs. If the cost recovery percent is known, the usage fees that make up that cost recovery could easily be listed.
- The Fact Sheet on Prop 1 does not mention user fees.
- The June 27 letter from the Parks Director to the City Manager Table 5 refers to the Revenue but it does not mention the user fees that make up the revenue.
- Much of the detailed information that was presented to the PFEC committee is retained on the PFEC site, Aquatics center usage fees are not in the PFEC information.
However, the usage fees can be seen on the video of June 6 City Council meeting. At minute 43 is a presentation from Parks Director to City Council that shows this slide.
Kirkland should leave room for those with moderate incomes. Prop 1 will tax all income levels and it increases the growing income inequity.
- It includes a full commercial kitchen and banquet rooms. Moderate income people are much less likely to go to catered events (unless they are working the event).
- It requires a $1,560 membership fee to use which is a lot of money for moderate income families. Most of them would not use the center.
- The Rec Center is intended to be a showcase costing twice what a sensible aquatics center would cost.
- The City says they do not use private/public partnerships because Kirkland provides "a higher level of service". This sounds like a fine dining restaurant or a luxury hotel.
There can be cost exemptions for those with low incomes, but these are very low thresholds. These discounts cannot extend to middle incomes.
Prop 1 increases the pressure pushing middle income people out of Kirkland.
2. Work with a partner like the YMCA. They contributed $5M toward the Sammamish build. This would lower the Kirkland share of the build cost.
3. Have all operation costs paid by user fees. Those who don't use the center don't pay for it. Working with a Partner allows that.
4. Fund with a Bond that ends when the center is paid off.
5. In a central location more accessible to Finn Hill and Juanita.